Last week, we offered readers the first 5 Town of Fort Myers Beach Charter Referendum questions that voters will see on the March 15 ballot. There will be a total of 21 Charter Referendum questions on that ballot, each one asking for a yes or no response from voters.
Our current Town Charter calls for a Charter Review every 10 years. Late in 2014, Town Council appointed five community members to serve on a Charter Review Committee (CRC). They were Tom Babcock, Chair and Miffie Greer, Vice-Chair, Dan Hughes, Jay Light and Dan Parker. After numerous meetings, lots of discussion and careful reading of the charter, they presented Town Council with their recommendations. After two public hearings, Council agreed to put 21 proposed charter changes on the ballot in March.
This week we will take a look at Referendum question 6-11.
REFERENDUM # 6
ESTABLISHING A TOWN CANVASSING BOARD
SUMMARY: This amendment will create a Town Canvassing Board. At the close of any Town election, the Town Canvassing Board will review the votes on file with the Supervisor of Elections and certify the total number of votes taken.
Sec. 5.09. Town canvassing board.
The town canvassing board shall be composed of a Town Council Member, selected by Town Council, who is not a candidate for reelection, the Town Manager and the Town Clerk, who shall act as chairperson. At the close of polls of any town election, or as soon thereafter as practicable, the canvassing board shall meet at a time and place designated by the chairperson and shall proceed to publicly canvass the vote as shown by the returns then on file in the Office of the Supervisor of Elections. The Board shall prepare and sign a certificate containing the total number of votes cast for each person or other measure voted on. The certificate shall be placed on file with the Town Clerk.
This is a new section, designed to eliminate the need for the Town Clerk to create a Town canvassing board from scratch for each election. State law requires a board to certify elections and in the past the Town Clerk has had to scramble to form a board. Approval of this questions will establish a board.
REFERENDUM # 7
SETTING COUNCIL MEMBER SALARIES AND METHOD FOR ADJUSTMENT
SUMMARY: This amendment establishes a specific annual salary for the mayor and council members, effective April 1, 2016, and provides a method for annual adjustment.
Sec. 4.05. Compensation.
An ordinance establishing, increasing, or decreasing compensation of the council may be adopted at any time; however, in no event shall any establishment of compensation or any increase in compensation become effective prior to the first day of the first month following the first regular election of the town subsequent to the adoption of such ordinance. Effective April 1, 2016, base pay for the Mayor will be $19,200 annually and Council Members will be $16,800 annually as compensation for their services. Compensation shall be revised annually based on across-the-board adjustments budgeted for staff and administered at the same time as Town employees.
Currently the Town pays each council member $14,400 per year, with the mayor being paid $16,800 – the same pay since 2002. If passed, this referendum question will provide for council pay to be set at $16,800 with the mayor being paid $19,200. That pay would be increased anytime there is a percentage increase for town employees – council/mayor would receive the same percentage increase. It comes as no surprise that our council members are often called, emailed and approached on the street, at the grocery store or while taking a walk on the beach, by residents with a question, concern or complaint nearly 24/7. There are four council meetings or workshops each month, plus their work as liaisons to groups both on and off island. They are expected to read and prepare for each meeting. All in all, they spend an incredible amount of time fulfilling their duties as a council member. While the CRC acknowledged that the job is considered “volunteer” work and public service, they also thought that appropriate compensation might encourage a diverse slate of qualified candidates to run for council.
REFERENDUM # 8
CLARIFYING THE DATE MAYOR AND VICE MAYOR ARE SELECTED
SUMMARY: This amendment clarifies that the selection of the council members to serve as mayor and vice mayor will occur at the first meeting following the second Tuesday in March.
Sec. 4.02. Mayor.
At the first regularly scheduled meeting following the town’s regular election meeting after the second Tuesday in March, the council, by majority vote, shall elect from its membership a mayor. The mayor shall serve as chairperson during meetings of the council and shall serve as the head of municipal government for the purpose of execution of legal documents as required by ordinance. The mayor shall also serve as the ceremonial head of the town.
Sec. 4.03. Vice mayor.
At the first regularly scheduled meeting following the town’s regular election meeting after the second Tuesday in March, the council, by a majority vote, shall elect from among its membership a vice mayor who shall serve as mayor during the absence or disability of the mayor and, if a vacancy occurs, shall become interim mayor pursuant to section 4.08 of this charter.
This is a housekeeping questions that clears up when the mayor and vice-mayor are elected, whether it is an election year or not.
REFERENDUM # 9
CLARIFYING THE TERMS OF FORFEITURE OF OFFICE
SUMMARY: This amendment clarifies that a council member may forfeit elected office for failure to attend three consecutive regularly scheduled council meetings without an excused absence, or failure to maintain a permanent residence in the Town of Fort Myers Beach.
Sec. 4.07. Forfeiture of office.
A member of the council may forfeit the office, if the member:
(d) Misses three consecutive regularly scheduled council meetings without an excused absence.
(e) Does not maintain a permanent residence in the Town of Fort Myers Beach.
The Charter currently states that a council member who misses three consecutive regularly scheduled meetings may lose their seat. The referendum question would add, “without an excused absence,” allowing for the extended absence of a council member if excused. It also adds the requirement that council members maintain a permanent residence within the Town while serving on council, a requirement currently assumed but missing from the Charter.
REFERENDUM # 10
AMENDING AND CLARIFYING THE PROCESS FOR THE ADOPTION OF EMERGENCY TOWN ORDINANCES
SUMMARY: This amendment eliminates unnecessary restraints on the Town Council to enact ordinances under emergency conditions. Emergency ordinances adopted by Council will automatically be repealed 61 days after adoption.
Sec. 10.02. Adoption of ordinances.
To meet a public emergency affecting life, health, property, or the public peace, the The council, as provided by a two-thirds vote of those present as required by general law, may adopt an emergency ordinance without complying with the requirements of notice expressed in the foregoing paragraph. An emergency ordinance may not levy taxes; grant, renew, or extend a franchise; set service or user charges for any municipal services; or authorize the borrowing of money. An emergency ordinance shall become effective upon adoption and automatically stand repealed as of the 61st day following the date on which it was adopted. This shall not prevent reenactment of such an ordinance under regular procedures.
This question deals with emergency ordinances, something that is already covered in Florida law, which limits what emergency ordinances can and cannot do. The automatic termination of any emergency ordinances after 61 days is designed to prevent abuse.
REFERENDUM # 11
CLARIFY THE PROCESS OF COUNCIL ACTION IN RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION OF THE CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION
SUMMARY: This amendment removes obsolete language regarding the timing of charter review, which will be conducted every 10 years. It clarifies that Council action with respect to Charter Review Commission recommendations includes the authority to accept, reject or modify the proposed changes after two public hearings.
Sec. 13.03. Charter review.
The charter will be reviewed no later than 3 years after approval, then no later than 5 years after the initial charter review, and thereafter at least every 10 years. A five-member charter review commission shall be appointed and funded by the council. The charter review commission shall be appointed at least 6 months before the next scheduled election and complete its work and present any recommendations to the Council for change no later than 60 days before the election. The council shall hold a minimum of two public hearings on to approve, reject or modify the proposed changes to the charter prior to placing the proposed changes on the scheduled election ballot.
This question is one of the clerical correction referendum questions. It removes obsolete language related to the Town’s early days and clarifies the Charter Review process going forward.
Next week, we’ll review more referendum questions. For reference, the Town Charter is available online at www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov